City Manager Lehman Walker said he inherited the issue of the Ruth Park driving range lights and is doing his best to find a compromise.
At Tuesday’s park commission meeting, Walker took questions from the commissioners concerning his decision in May to permanently turn off the range lights after neighbors across the street from the range complained of light spillage into their homes.
"I believe the lights are problematic," Walker told the commissioners. "It's a problem I inherited. It's a problem I'm making every effort to address."
Walker said University City has hired the landscape architect firm Austin Tao & Associates to look at the lighting issue and make some recommendations to the city. The architect is expected to give his opinion on the lights in a month or two. Walker said he doesn’t want to make any decisions on the lights until he hears back from the architect.
"I made the decision to turn the lights off until we come to some kind of decision based upon a proper study," he said.
The commissioners said since the study won’t be back until November, it’s doubtful anything will be done about the lights until next golf season.
When asked if the lights could remain on during the study period, Walker responded, “I prefer not to do that.”
“I’m waiting to get recommendation from a professional landscape architect on how to solve this problem,” he said. “I hope to bring closure to this soon."
Walker defended his decision to turn the lights off, even though they only bother a handful of neighbors.
“I believe residents across the street should have more influence than those that do not live there,” Walker said.
Commissioner Karen Palmer noted that a light study showed no light fell in homes across the street.
“I don’t accept the findings of the study,” said Walker. “The whole notion that the lights are not an intrusion in the neighborhood…I don’t see that to be accurate. The lights are an intrusion.”
Commissioner Caryn St. Clair voiced concern that University City would be blackballed from receiving future grant money from the Municipal Park Grant Commission of St. Louis County, which partially funded the lights.
In June, University City received a letter from the Park Grant Commission expressing displeasure that the range lights had been disabled, and indicating that University City's decision could jeopardize future grant funding opportunities.
Walker said he received the letter but did not reply.
“They recognize we are reviewing the issue,” he said. “I saw no need to respond to this.”
Walker said the worst-case scenario is the lights remain off. He said at that point University City would return the $39,000 grant money to the Municipal Park Commission.
“We would give that money back, and say we're not using the lights, this was the amount of money from the grant devoted to that, so here is that portion back. And that would not jeopardize our future grant access," Walker said.